Free Market Enthusiasts Plot To Destroy Public Housing

You would think during a time of vast unemployment, wealth disparity, and economic instability that great minds would unite in order to imagine and build a new tomorrow in which the suffering of the masses could be lessened. Of course, that fantasy includes the provision that The Smartest Guys In The Room are also The Most Moral Guys In The Room, which is rarely the case.

Enter T.A. Frank, a New America Foundation think tank lackey, who believes the solution to horrific living conditions in the ghetto is to privatize Section 8 housing and ship black people out to the subprime suburbs.

This is a bad idea for obvious reasons laid out in The Exile by Yasha Levine. First, the area where Frank wants to ship poor black people isn't that great, according to Levine.

My adopted home of Victorville, California, a McTractHome paradise on the edge of the Mojave Desert 100 miles east of LA, has a buttload of crime, non-existent employment options, racial isolation and a gestapo police presence--just like the real ghetto.

If men like Frank were truly acting in the spirit of altruism, wouldn't they want to improve the preexisting communities of poor black people, say, by increasing police presence, creating job programs, fostering small businesses, and rebuilding public schools? Frank's idea to "help" poor people is the same strategy negligent pet owners employ when they want to get rid of an unwanted dog. Drive to the city limits and dump the mutt in the woods. Then drive away as quickly as possible.

Second, unless the government is also willing to supply cars for this newly created diaspora, I have no idea how these people are supposed to get around. L.A. isn't exactly known for its wonderful public transportation, so I doubt there is an efficient bus fleet. Of course, these are all minor details. The main goal is to get the black, poor people the hell out of the way so that Frank and Associates can get their fingers on that prime real estate. As for the black people, it's like Levine says:

Outta sight, outta mind.

That's the best kind of charity!

Third, this is just another way to reinforce class and race divides in our country. The wealth disparity and racist policies of the United States has already been well documented, but I do want to share this chart, which simultaneously illustrates the rise in poverty and unemployment across the board, but also the magnified impact the trend has on the minority communities.


I have no idea how any economist, after looking at these figures, doesn't run screaming from the room. Clearly, an economic system in which these are the "success" figures is very broken. Perhaps now is the time to rethink hyper-Capitalism, and not tear down public housing, the last refuge of the dispossessed.

If this seems like the sad, racist fantasy of one free market jackal, it's not. This is already happening. Last summer, the New York Times ran a story about Atlanta's public housing woes. [emphasis mine]

[C]ritics of the demolitions worry about the toll on residents, who must qualify for vouchers, struggle to find affordable housing and often move to only slightly less impoverished neighborhoods. Especially in a troubled economy, civil rights groups say, uprooting can lead to homelessness if more low-income housing is not made available. Lawsuits have been filed in many other cities, generally without success, that claim that similar relocations violate residents' civil rights and resegregate the poor.

The federal government has advocated variations of this approach for several decades, particularly since President Bill Clinton began the Hope VI program in the 1990s to disperse residents from centralized projects. Atlanta may be the furthest along, but its plans to demolish buildings, relocate residents and work with private developers to gentrify destitute neighborhoods are being mirrored across the country in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Miami and New Orleans.

Over all, 195,000 public housing units have met the wrecking ball across the country since 2006, and over 230,000 more units are scheduled for demolition, according to the Housing and Urban Development Department.

This seems utterly insane. During an economic crisis, and spiking unemployment, why the hell would any Great Mind look at this mess and think -- You know what? Let's tear down the affordable housing!

Beyond being cruel, this is dangerous. Poor people rely upon urban geography for their very survival. They need cheap public transportation and nearby stores (including the frequently understocked and nutrition-lacking Bodegas) in order to eat and get to their jobs. If the poor get pushed to the outskirts of cities and towns, not only is that a step backward into a more segregated society, but it threatens the survival of these human beings.

And when rich people want the outskirts -- what then? Where will the poor go then? Will it even matter?

Cross-posted from Allison Kilkenny's blog. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.